This piece is an altar image for a more recent queer ancestor, James Baldwin. I came upon his writing a few years ago when I was trying to find my way in the world shortly after I graduated from college. Reading Baldwin helped me to renew my efforts in forging my claim to this world, at a time when I felt like my hold on things was tenuous and I didn’t know how or who or what I was fighting for. The motifs of flames and small burning hearts stand for the sharply critical yet deeply genuine compassion that I find most inspiring and challenging about his art, his life and his approach to identity and struggle (and also allude to his essay, “The Fire Next Time”). I fashioned a fiery crown of pens for him, based on this quote from Toni Morrison, in her speech “Life in His Language,” honoring Baldwin after his death. She recalls that he said, “Our crown… has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do, you said, is wear it.”
The Queer Ancestors Project
The Queer Ancestors Project is devoted to forging sturdy relationships between LGBTQI people and our ancestors. Using history as a linchpin, we build community by providing Queer and Trans artists, age 18 to 26, free interdisciplinary workshops in printmaking, writing, and Queer history. Public exhibitions and readings of their work provide a window on the past through which the larger community can glimpse our collective future.
The LGBTQI community has a limited visual record, or none at all, of significant Queer events before the 1970s, particularly in the histories of Queers of color and transgender people. This lack of imagery makes it harder for LGBTQI people to connect with, learn from, and be inspired by our history. Just as photographs from your early life help to anchor personal memories, a visual record – even an imagined one – can bring historical events to life, creating the kind of indelible connection that enables us to engage deeply with our ancestors.